Hospitality insights from “Houshi”

Houshi (english) from Fritz Schumann on Vimeo.

The Houshi family has run a ryokan (traditional hotel) in Japan for about 1,300 years. But their highest priority isn’t taking care of guests. Instead, it’s two-fold:

  1. “Passing on our long history for future generations”
  2. Protecting their hot spring

That’s why they have to “bear with” and “endure” the work of hospitality. Day to day, this means they put their guests’ needs ahead of their own. Quintessential long game.

Adding further evidence to the shared heritage of hotels and prostitution, they used to have parties–every day–with “many hostesses and geisha.”

But that’s not their true beginning–their roots go back to a religious sense of duty. Their ancestral founder was a Buddhist monk.

Hospitality is a business with “many unimaginable responsibilities“, which create a “heavy burden” on the mind.

It needs to be clear who’s in charge–now and tomorrow. The Houshi family had been confused and worried about who would run the ryokan next, until they bent the old rules and accepted their daughter as the next owner.

New ebook about innkeeping on the Camino de Santiago …or anywhere else

Check it out…

How to be an Innkeeper (Hospitalero) on the Camino de Santiago cover

The Blurb: On Spain’s ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, volunteer innkeepers — hospitaleros — take care of pilgrims and manage the inns along the route.

This is a quick book that explores the spirit of innkeeping and the countless tiny choices that every innkeeper must make. It’s not just for innkeepers — hopefully anyone involved in hospitality will find it useful.

9,282 words

You may have seen the old version on this site — I wrote it after working as a hospitalero in 2007 in Viana, Nájera, and Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Spain. Now it’s revised, updated, and available on Amazon here.


Tarptent Scarp 1 in Iceland

A few shots of the Tarptent Scarp 1 on the Laugavegur Trek in Iceland, July 2013. These are iPhone photos — the Nikon DSLR didn’t get to go on this trip…

Tarptent Scarp 1 in Iceland

I took the Tarptent Scarp 1 on the Laugavegur Trek in Iceland. Aside from a shakedown in my backyard in Pennsylvania and a night at the Reykjavik campground, the trek was the tent’s first outing. It performed extremely well.


Tarptent Scarp 1 in Iceland

The dual side vestibules gave me a ton of extra space. I used the far side for wet, muddy gear, and the entrance side for boots and temporary storage. You can use either side as a door. (And yes, that sagging panel should be tighter.)

Tarptent Scarp 1 in Iceland

I brought a set of crossing poles for support in high winds, but never used them. The arch sleeve pullouts, seen here, provide extra stability. The crossing poles would add even more strength in very strong winds.

Continue reading Tarptent Scarp 1 in Iceland

Farming for Freedom — WW2 Work Song

image of victory job

During World War 2, my grandma sang this song while working on a farm in upstate NY for the summer. As far as I know, this is the first time the full lyrics have been published on the internet.

Farming for Freedom
(to the tune of the Caisson Song)

Up in trees, on our knees,
Picking beans and strawberries,
We are farming for freedom today.

Bit by bees, stung by fleas,
We are working just with ease [?],
We are farming for freedom today.

With our flag in sight
We are working day and night,
Feeding the men in the air and on the sea.

So it’s off we go
To meet the common foe,
Yes we are farming for freedom today.

(Cheer) Keep ‘em eating, keep ‘em eating!

I Googled exact phrases from the song and only found one hit, on page 59 of the autobiography Madame W by Leila Israel Weisberg. The related section is quoted below. Note the slight differences in the lyrics.

Due to labor shortages, New York State had a program which organized volunteers to harvest farm crops. I signed up for the two-week program.

The group of volunteers gathered on Sunday morning for the trip to Poughkeepsie, New York on the Hudson River Day Line. When we arrived in Poughkeepsie we were loaded onto buses and taken to various camps in the area where we would be housed for two weeks. My group was taken to the training camp used by Tony Canizzaro, the prizefighter. The accommodations seemed rustic to me, a city girl, but quite adequate. After a good supper, we all went to bed early because we had to get up the next morning at 5:30 am. Breakfast was at 6 and the area farmers started picking us up at 7. Each of us was given a bag lunch and we were loaded onto the backs of trucks and taken to the farms. We picked cherries, currants, and strawberries and weeded tomatoes. We were paid for our work by the bushel or pint or by the hour when we did weeding. The farmers kept track of what we earned.

As we worked, we sang a song to the tune of “As Those Caissons Go Rolling Along.” I only remember the first verse. It went like this:

“On our knees
Up in trees
Picking peas and strawberries
We are farming for freedom today.”

It was the hardest work I had ever done and I came back to camp each evening so tired I could barely eat and flop into bed. We had to pay for our room and board and after two weeks, my earnings covered all but $3 of the cost.

So there you go, historians.

Are you suffering from hypoanxiety?

If you’re enjoying life, you might be one of the millions of Americans suffering from hypoanxiety. Beware — this condition can spoil your well-educated urban existence.

Symptoms include: Building campfires, riding elevators, committing to relationships, listening to people crunching and slurping without flying into a rage, using public restrooms, allowing your children to play outdoors, eating canned food and consuming less than nine cups of coffee a day.

But don’t worry — The Big City Times can help. A daily dose of the Big City Times with breakfast can reverse the symptoms of hypoanxiety in college graduates. Visit our website — behind the paywall — and join the lonely crowd.

Side effects may include brunch, jaywalking, seasonal wardrobes, eyebrow grooming, sinus headaches and taxes.

Image by roeyahram via Flickr.

Check out my Camino de Santiago ebook on Amazon

Guided by Shadows: A Westward Walk on Spain’s Camino de Santiago

I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2005. Eight years later, the experience is transformed into a little book for your armchair travel pleasure. Enjoy. Ultreia!

Or, as the blurb says:

Guided by Shadows puts you on the path to Santiago. It reveals not only the joys and pains of the route, but also the mysteries, frustrations and absurdity of a 500-mile walking pilgrimage.

14,830 words // ~49 Kindle pages

Guided by Shadows - Camino de Santiago book cover


Stream citizens: Keep going

Flickr image Davos

This blog’s tagline is, “The road is where you are.” But what does that mean?

It means that you are always traveling.  It is a response to travelers or travel bloggers who complain about being “home” and wish to return to “the road.” It is an admonition to lifelong journeyers to embrace their current location, wherever that might be, with the spirit of travel. It is a dare to make an existential leap — from seeing your life as punctuated by periodic travel, to seeing your life as perpetual travel.

These ideas mesh with Ribbonfarm’s “The Stream Map of the World” post, which proposes the construct of streams and stream citizens. If you’ve filled a passport (or two or three +) with stamps, and made friends from all over the world in the process, you might feel a tension between your weird roving lifestyle and rooted Western culture. The Ribbonfarm post might help you understand the path you’ve taken, and encourage you to continue on your way despite growing cultural/family pressure to pick a spot and stay there.

Fellow Millennials, I’m looking at you.

Here are a few selections from the post, bold mine:

A stream is not a migration pattern, travel in the usual sense, or a consequence of specific kinds of work that require travel (such as seafaring or diplomacy). It is a sort of slow, life-long communal nomadism, enabled by globalization and a sense of shared transnational social identity within a small population.

Stream citizens are not global citizens (a vacuous high-modernist concept that is as culturally anemic as the UN). Their social identities are far narrower and richer. They are (undeclared) stream citizens, whose identities derive from their slow journey across the world.

Selected features of stream citizenship (from a list of 12):

3. Voluntary slowness: A stream is a pattern of movement where individual movements take place over years or decades, spanning entire development life stages. Unlike a decade-long limbo state imposed by (say) waiting for an American green card, which has individuals impatient to get the process over with and “settle down” in either a new home, or return to an old one, stream citizens don’t experience their state as a limbo state. They are always “home.” Being a relatively new phenomenon, there are no streams that are life-encompassing as yet. But I believe those will emerge — distinctive cradle-t0-grave geographic journeys.

10. High adaptability: Nostalgia is weak for stream citizens, as is the faraway-home/near-exotic sense of alienation from surrounding. Stream citizens are both home and abroad at the same time.

12. Lack of an arrival dynamic: This is perhaps the most important feature. There is no sense of anticipation of an “arrival” event  such as getting an American green card, after which “real” life can begin. There is wherever you go, there you are indifference to rootedness. This psychological shift is the central individual act. By abandoning arrival-based frames, stream citizens free themselves from yearning for geographically rooted forms of social identity.

Note: After reading the Ribbonfarm comments and Googling a few phrases, it seems that this meme hasn’t been discussed by the Rolf Potts-inspired Vagabonding blog network, the RTW scene or the Matador Mafia. If it has been and you can link to threads of interest, please do so in the comments.

Photo by Astragony via Flickr.

Writing while half asleep: An experiment

Trees in meadow

Try this: The next time you extract yourself from a dream, write it down. I don’t mean the next time you wake up in the middle of the night, but rather the next time you lucidly decide to leave a dream.

The next day, observe how your half-asleep brain uses words. You might find what I did: There’s an effortless economy that’s enviable, but there are also some weird wordings and mistakes. Fun!

The unedited exhibit:

Scary protest dream, set in Emmaus. There with Mel outside a building when cops pepper sprayed from the roof. We ran, putting bandanas around our mouth/nose. Ran through streets chased by fire ladder truck spraying pepper from hose at top of extended letter. Chased into a park. The mob found an abandoned youth hostel and crowded in out of the rain for bathroom and shower. I said, someone should keep watch. I went to a nook by the door and saw cops near. Yelled officers approaching! and ran back across the meadow. A cop caught me by the back of my rain jacket. I’d lost Mel. While the cop was cuffing three people up against the back of his car, I sprinted off toward a stand of pine trees. Got away for now.


1. “Our mouth/nose” — it works.
2. Fire ladder truck, an interesting compound noun.
3. Letter instead of ladder.
4. Lack of quotation marks.
5. After “scary,” only essential adjectives. Extended, abandoned and three. Counting “rain jacket” and “pine trees” as nouns.
6. “Got away for now.” Still participating in the episode, even though I’m arguably awake.

Photo by K_Gradinger via Flickr.

What comes after the hipsters?

The Buick LeSabre

After the hipsters will come the fogeys: youth who affect elderly ways.

We’ve already seen the trend’s roots in hipsterdom. Dyed-gray hair, button-up sweaters, knitting and so on. But the fogeys will go further. Canes, walkers, motorized scooters, Centrum Silver, bifocals, medicinal lotions, compression socks and diapers. Conveniently, it’ll be golf, crosswords and bingo all day. Assisted living communities will pop up in Brooklyn to meet the fogeys’ demand.

Fogeys will fight Craigslist bidding wars over Buick LeSabres. A handicapped parking tag will be instant street cred. SXSW will introduce the masses to Welkcore. Viagra will be a given, and promiscuity will reach new milestones. Fogeys will pinch pennies and pay by check, or else openly acknowledge – finally – their comfy fixed incomes.

Photo by normanack via Flickr.

Allentown in One Sentence

Photo of Allentown Flower Man

The city of Allentown began with a decision to spin silk, followed by a swing to the opposite pursuit of making steel, and the lumbering steel industry forged transcontinental rail tracks and train wheels and who knows how many hobo shovels and skyscraper guts and World War II cannons before eventually collapsing under its own benefit-heavy, slow-to-adapt-to-world-competition density, leaving the Lehigh Valley teetering on the brink of destruction for a number of years — 10? 15? — long enough for Billy Joel to write a song about it , which often serves as the primary point of reference when the subject of hometowns comes up while an Allentown resident is on the road, and which proved apt but only for a while, because somehow the underlying German work ethic — as people round here like to believe — prevailed against the burnt-out industrial past, and turkey farmers sold their holdings to big businesses seeking the perfect point for efficient distribution, close to New York and Philadelphia and D.C., outside of the tax shackles of New York and New Jersey, on the interstate, with a large and ready and well-trained workforce, and medical device manufacturing crept west, out of Jersey and the Philly suburbs, and the universities grew and pulled in students and professors and janitors and librarians and lab techs and the retiring parents of the students, who could spot a good lifestyle and saw the sea of bluehairs as an advantage rather than an annoyance or burden, and charitable interests sought to preserve the health of the population, transmuting chemical fortunes into medical megaplexes, healing all who knocked and presented a valid, too-rare health insurance card, especially the aforementioned elderly (many beyond the point of healing), sputtering to their exits while their grandchildren stuck around and pieced together artistic ventures centered around rockabilly hair, skateboards, hula hoops, Twitter and used books, accepting that they had enough parks and alcohol and willing romantic partners in the Lehigh Valley and didn’t need to move to Philly or New York after all, but could live a slow, content life with a solid soundtrack right here in little old traffic-choked Allentown, PA.

On travel, routines and bases

Allow me to join this discussion two years too late.

Don’t write off routines. The word routine, meaning “usual course of action”, comes from route — “a traveled way”, “a means of access” or “a line of travel”, according to Webster. In other words, a road.

“But that’s a metaphorical road!” you might say.

True, although “hitting the road” — i.e. travel — is a metaphor itself. It’s not easy to drive from New York to Bangkok. And even for the classic Interstate road trip, being on the road connotes both pavement underfoot and personal development, advancement or achievement — the Kerouac-style Journey of Self-Discovery.

However, a JoSDy doesn’t require an actual, physical journey. Not everyone is down with the barbarian lifestyle. Instead, people choose to have a home base because it helps them pursue long-term relationships and goals. It facilitates sedentary accumulation. (English translation: It helps them hoard stuff). Their base upholds the sculpture of their life. No big deal. More room to stretch out on the Bangalore to Calcutta train for everyone else. (And yes, Calcutta has so much more musty heft than Kolkata, at least for English speakers. The mushy brass doorknob and whatnot.)

A military base supports a field of operations, and some people like this strategy. Again, it’s not always the best. The base itself is not the end, not the goal. It’s the foundation — from the Latin fundus, or bottom — that allows the buildup of funds, or capital: Financial, physical (tangible assets), social (relationships), human (education), or however else you might define it. Robbers stage hold ups for funds because funds uphold existence.

And even nomads have a base: Tight stitching around the bottom of the backpack.